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 Iraqi gov't delays nationwide census yet again, snarled in years long dispute

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Iraqi gov't delays nationwide census yet again, snarled in years long dispute  30.11.2010  

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November 30, 2010

BAGHDAD, — Iraq's government Tuesday once again pushed back a nationwide census that has been stalled in a years long dispute over how to count the ethnic breakdown between Arabs and Kurds in the nation's north.

The census will be Iraq's first nationwide count in more than two decades.

Planning Ministry official Mahdi al-Alaq said no new date has been set for the population count that was supposed to take place Dec. 5.                    

Photo shows a demonstrators hold a large Kurdish flag in Erbil, Kurdistan region of Iraq, in March 2010.
Political leaders have been unable to resolve a disagreement over whether Iraq's central government or the semiautonomous Kurdish region should carry out the census in disputed lands that are ethnically mixed.  

Officials will meet again on Thursday to try to settle the matter.

"The reason behind the delays in holding the census is the deep mistrust among political groups regarding the disputed areas," said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.

A 1997 census that put Iraq's population at more than 26 million excluded the three northern provinces that comprise the semiautonomous Kurdistan region. Officials have agreed to count the three provinces in the new census.

The count has been put off numerous times because of disputes over who should be legally counted as a resident in squatter-plagued areas in Iraq's north that Kurds,
www.ekurd.netSunni Arabs and Turkomen each claim as their own.

Leaders recently agreed to ask the residents to identify their ethnicity as part of the census questionnaire — which had been one of the last big sticking points in the debate.

Ultimately, the census will help decide which group has a majority and, potentially, ruling authority, over a swath of disputed land in Diyala, Tamim and Ninevah provinces.

The ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, which sits on top of one-third of Iraq's estimated $11 trillion in oil reserves, is the part of the disputed swath.

Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city. 

Iraq's Planning Ministry says it has hired 250,000 workers to go door-to-door across the country for the count. Officials want to try to wrap up the census in one day to prevent people from moving from one area to another in an attempt to register twice — and therefore boost their ethnic population tally.

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